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Background Information

Despite the perception that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is primarily a male health problem, it is the main cause of death for Canadian women, and the number of deaths from CVD for women and men is almost equal.  In 2002, cardiovascular disease accounted for 32% of all male deaths and 34% of all female deaths and a total of 74,626 Canadian deaths [11].  Given the almost equal burden of mortality from CVD for women and men, it is disturbing to note the following research:

  • Despite differences in symptomlogy for CVD between men and women, many American physicians believe that symptoms are the same for both sexes. In fact, women experience more nausea and back pain during a heart attack, while men experience left arm pain and chest pain, which is thought to be the "classic" sign of a heart attack.[8]. This lack of knowledge can be deadly for women with CVD.

  • Ethnic background also plays a significant role in CVD. American research has shown that African American women are twice as likely to suffer a stroke compared to Caucasian women, have more strokes and have them at a younger age. This is in contrast to Latina, American Indian and Asian American women, who have a slightly lower risk of stroke than white women.[10]

  • Studies show that women with suspected heart disease have fewer non-invasive and invasive diagnostic tests ordered compared to male counterparts, while those with proven disease have fewer interventional procedures performed.

  • Psychosocial support following a heart attack is also important for both women and men. However, women are less likely to be referred by their physicians and are less likely to attend even when they are referred.[9] This may be because most women are trying to balance paid work and family responsibilities, so they may have less time to attend groups. Factors that might increase women’s participation are groups that meet close to the woman’s home, offer child care, have a transportation pool, or that alternate between the homes of the participants.

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8. Tecce MA, et al. Heart disease in older women. Gender differences affect diagnosis and treatment. Geriatrics 2003;58:33-39.

9. Eaker, E.D., (1998) Psychosocial Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease in Women. Cardiology Clinics, 16(1): 103-111.

10. Casper ML et al. Atlas of Stroke Mortality: Racial, Ethnic, and Geographic Disparities in the United States. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; January 2003. accessed March 28, 2006 http://www.cdc.gov/cvh/maps/strokeatlas/atlas_download.htm

11. Statistics Canada: Causes of Death 2002(www.hc-sc.gc.ca)

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